16th April, 2017 remains the darkest day in the history of Rumphi. At around 3pm a boat carrying 79 passangers enroute to my home and sorrounding villages capsized killing about 25 passangers on board. The gravity of the tragedy was enormous and glipped the nation when they learnt the victims were on their way from Easter prayers. The somber mood and mourning that had befallen the nation sympathized with the bereaved families.
Government response towards the tragic was imprompt and encouraging. The assistance catered medical bills to the surviving victims and all funeral arrangements and expenses were on government shoulders. A powerful demonstration of genuine compassion and concerns over the disaster. The military was tasked with the rescue mission to find missing victims. Politicians too, demonstrated a rarely gesture of patriotism through their unity. The humatarian response from all angles of society were timely and helpful. Whenever such type of calamity occurs, finger pointing is inevitable. The boat captain by all means had to be the culprit so they concluded. Again, such misfortune invite opportunities for small minded individuals to score political mileage for being present at the vigil.
Ferrying passengers through boats is the main mode of transportation around Mlowe, Tchalo, Zunga and Old Salawe commuties and surrounding communities. It was not surprising on this day, these 79 passangers squeezed themselves into this small boat since accidents of such nature rarely occurs. Presumably, they might have ever been in a clouded boat before and had all the confidence they would sail through. Unfortunately, the wind that buffeted was strong for the boat and it capsized.
Eight months has elapsed after this deadly disaster. It remains the worst heart breaking accident on the waters of Lake Malawi. The scar left behind will never be erased from the memories of the bereaved families. To many this is an old story that happened and has been burried. Apparently, it occurred amongst the kinsmen of Zunga Village my home my pride. If this incident is thoroughly scratched from its genesis root cause, future accidents of this nature will be avoided. The nation has forgotten and moved on while the dwellers continue risking their lives by boarding boats deemed un seaworthy.
One seasoned politician is quoted advocating for the government to institute a commission of inquiry. Why waste tax payers money when the cause is evident? Let alone the history of such inquiry is anything to by never yields anything. One of the weakness of our nation is failure to plan for long term solutions and goals. The humanitarian responses on any disaster, satisfies souls temporarily with no hope for tomorrow. Such tragedies are prone to happen as the government has not addressed the core issue of water transportation on the dwellers.
MV Ilala an ageing cargo and passenger ship is the sole “reliable” ship that can withstand storms on the waters of Lake Malawi, it pains to admit is not as reliable as it sounds. It appears twice a week along these communities and can not dress the issue of transportation alone and this provide the dwellers with no option but to use their wrecked boats not fit for the lake. The population of the area also can not be served with only one ship. The catastrophe that happened in April, 2017 was an opportunity in disguise to make things better for the good. If one politician would’ve died with the victims-God forbid -immediate and lasting solutions would’ve been found. Big propelled engine boats would’ve been sourced to litigate challenges faced by the dwellers.
The attitude of disaster response must be progressive and finding sustainable solutions. Punitive measures ser to regulate the number of passengers in boats will remain fruitless if no strong and reliable boats are made available along this route. The horror of this tragedy lives among us despite giving it a blind eye. Never again to experience the reoccurring of that kind of calamity due to human error and negligence to rectify the root cause. Some have not forgotten continue resting in peace.